Fighting Theater with Theater: Plato’s Dialogues as Philosophical Dramas


“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
               – Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

“There is another art which imitates by means of language alone, and that either in prose or verse … but this has hitherto been without a name.  For there is no common term we could apply to the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and the Socratic dialogues on the one hand; and, on the other, to poetic imitations in iambic, elegiac, or any similar meter.”
                      – Aristotle, Poetics 1447a27-1447b12

Although there is an ancient and venerable tradition of reading Plato’s Socratic Dialogues as “philosophy” to be analyzed primarily (if not only) in terms of their logical propositions, there is an even older (although today, much less venerable) tradition of reading the Plato’s Dialogues as dramas that embody a certain type of philosophical activity. In this lecture, we will consider what it means to take a “dramatic approach” to the Dialogues and explore some of the insights into Plato’s work that such an approach can yield. In particular we will consider that it means to think of Plato primarily as the revolutionary successor to Homer rather than primarily as the evolutionary successor to Socrates. Or rather, how it is best to think of Plato as the incomparable union of the two, fostering “Better Souls Through Better Shadows”. Continue reading

“Even His Angels He Charges with Error”: The Hebrew Bible as a National Literature of Self-Castigation


Although many ancient peoples created national literatures of self-glorification, the Israelites were perhaps unique in adding a large measure of self-castigation to theirs. The Hebrew Bible thus has something of a Tale of Two Cities stance toward the “chosen people” as both “the best” and “the worst” of peoples. This lecture will survey these themes in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as well as the ways they manifest themselves in the New Testament. Continue reading

Agent in Athens, Patient in Jerusalem: The Cosmic (Sense of) Self in Ancient Greek and Judaic Cultures


One of the great insights of the modern era is that notions of what a “person” is, as well as notions about the “cosmos” those persons inhabit, vary from culture to culture. Indeed the two are linked. In this talk, we will explore the interconnections between cultural notions of “self’ and “cosmos” by considering the cases of ancient Greek culture on the one hand and ancient Judaic culture on the other. In each case, notions of creation were correlated with notions of the cosmos that in turn were correlated with notions of the nature of man and the nature of wisdom. In Athens, the cosmic (sense of) self was that of a cosmic agent, while in Jerusalem it was that of a cosmic patient. Continue reading

Agent in Athens, Patient in Jerusalem: The Cosmic (Sense of) Self in Ancient Greek and Judaic Cultures and their Descendents

WRITINGS > Unfinished

This essay is a generalization about idealizations.  As such, it is necessarily imperfect and incorrect.  In some ways it says too little.  In other ways it says too much.  Nonetheless, my hope is that this essay still says something true, something that begins to get at some of the ways that ancient Greek and Judaic civilizations spawned “senses of self” (or even more radically, actual “selves”) that were fundamentally different from, perhaps even antithetical to, one another — just as they also spawned “worldviews” (or even actual “worlds”) that were fundamentally different and perhaps antithetical.  As such, this essay is an exploration in what might be called “historical cultural psychology” — an examination of the ways in which “self” and “world” mutually constituted one another in two historically-important civilizations.  And to the extent Athens and Jerusalem live on in at least two contemporary civilizations, this essay is also an exploration of the ways in which “self” and “world” mutually constitute one another today. Continue reading

Mediating Mormonism: The Book of Mormon in Mormon Culture and Cognition


The dissertation proposed is an effort to further the development of an overarching model of the “textual mediation of culture and cognition” through an initial interdisciplinary case study of the dialectical relationship which has existed between the Book of Mormon and Mormonism since the publication of the former and the founding of the latter in 1830.
As currently conceived, the analysis will proceed in three parts. Part One will set the scene by laying out the theoretical background of the study and the historical background on Mormonism and the Book of Mormon. With these basic perspectives and facts in hand, Part Two will move in two opposite directions, conducting first an “imagined community” analysis which examines the ways in which the Book of Mormon has participated in the “social construction of Mormon realities” (text → context), and then an “interpretive community” analysis which examines the ways in which Mormonism has participated in the “social construction of Book of Mormon textualities” (context → text). Finally, Part Three will resolve this “Hegelian contradiction” by reconceptualizing both the issues and insights of Part Two in terms of: (1) textual mediation of Mormon culture (group habits of thought ↔ individual habits of thought); (2) textual mediation of Mormon cognition (individual habits of thought ↔ individual episodes of thought); and (3) textual mediation of Mormonism (group habits of thought ↔ individual episodes of thought). The conclusion will suggest how these three can be regimented as facets of one total phenomenon, the “textual mediation of Mormon culture-and-cognition”.
To the extent it is successful, the proposed study will: (1) promote a paradigm shift already underway by documenting the insufficiency of “social construction of reality” and “social construction of textuality” approaches to “myth” and the necessity of a “textual mediation” approach; (2) provide a basis for future studies of textual mediation both by contributing to our understanding of exactly what is happening when a text functions mythically and by serving as a prototypical analysis; and (3) shed light on the historical phenomenon that is Mormonism. Continue reading

Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’: Non-sense Not Nonsense


Although Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is traditionally considered to be ‘nonsense’, such a characterization ultimately rests on a Western folk notion of language as fundamentally semantico-referential. A more semiotically- and pragmatically-informed view of language and language-use, however, is capable of describing in considerable detail both the means by which a text such as “Jabberwocky” “makes sense” and the ends to which such a text can be put. Indeed, such a view shows that some discursive ends are particularly suited to attainment by means of so-called “nonsense” texts such as Jabberwocky. This paper outlines such a view and applies it to “Jabberwocky”, which is thus seen to make both denotational and interactional “sense”. Continue reading

Self-Evident Truths? Origin Myths and the Founding of America


Every people has stories that it tells about itself-stories about where it comes from, about its place in the universe, about its essential characteristics. Indeed, one of the key functions of “culture” is to impress these stories on each succeeding generation. When successful, this process makes these stories so “obvious” to insiders as to be self-evidently true (despite the fact that these same stories remain self-evidently dubious to outsiders). In these respects, the American people and American culture are no different than any others. From the beginning, Americans have constructed stories — political, historical, literary — as a way of defining themselves and their place in the world and thus as a way of shaping their destiny. A look at works as diverse as The Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers, The Scarlet Letter, The Gettysburg Address, and “Paul Revere’s Ride,” can illustrate this phenomenon and help us temporarily stand outside ourselves as we seek a better understanding of who we truly are. Continue reading